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Understanding Migration Through Evidence Cafés

The current MIAG project started life as an ESRC networking grant that ran for 18 months from January 2017. The network had the same overarching research idea at its core – to explore the connection and role of migrant groups to the generation of inclusive growth (IG) in African economies. At this early stage the network was still shaping the research questions and aiming to understand the state of existing data and evidence to establish a solid research premise. Innovative new knowledge exchange practices called Evidence Cafés, pioneered by academics at The Open University, were instrumental in this process. Dr Linda Oucho, Director of project partner organisation AMADPOC, explains the concept behind the cafés and their role in the creation of MIAG today.

Image of staff at AMACDPOC

Before I introduce myself I must introduce the organisation that I currently head, the African Migration and Development Policy Centre (AMADPOC). AMADPOC is a pioneer research think tank established in 2008, specialising primarily in understanding migration and development within Eastern and the Greater Horn of Africa. At the time AMAPDOC was established there were few independent locally led research institutions that were focusing on migration in Kenya, especially ones looking at providing evidence to policymakers on migration issues affecting or impacted by, in- and out-migration. It was set-up under the leadership and expertise of the late Prof. John Oyaro Oucho, one of the few national experts on migration in Kenya, boasting a 40-year career on the subject, from east to west and north to the south of Africa.

I joined AMADPOC in 2012 after completing my PhD studies in the UK and specialised in international migration of African women, drawing inspiration from my own migration experience. Since joining AMADPOC I have been involved in a number of national, regional and continental studies and policy engagement platforms that have broadened my perspectives on migration flows, both within the continent and beyond. While you can find commonalities across countries, the dynamics of how flows take place and how it impacts countries can be very different. Conducting research in Kenya and other African countries is varied and interesting and my research has taken me from issues of diaspora to internal migration and development. The theories and concepts help us to understand what we are looking for but the application requires some adjustment based on the specifics of each research site.

When the MIAG network started in March 2017 it was an intriguing and new concept for AMADPOC and myself. We were representing Kenya as part of a larger multi-country team exploring the connection between migration and IG from the perspective of immigrants and diaspora – comparing knowledge and experiences in Kenya, Mozambique, Ghana and Nigeria. The consortium was led and guided by an Open University team consisting of Prof. Giles Mohan, Prof. Pavarti Raghuram and Dr. Anne Adams, among others.

The methodology involved the use of Evidence Cafés which are designed to help unpack knowledge and data from different sources to understand links between migration and inclusive African growth. The cafés aims were to bridge the gap between academics and practitioners to allow them to explore how research informs practice and give academics access to practice-based insights. An ‘evidence-based champion’ facilitated the cafes. These are individuals at any level of a participating organisation whose role is to initiate change by:

  • identifying key topics
  • showing how research is relevant to the subject
  • giving context to the relevance of the research.

Proceedings are kept informal to allow ideas to be discussed freely. Methods used to stimulate ideas are ‘discussion objects’. These are discussion points closely linked to the café topic which are focused on for provoking broad and innovative debate. 

For the Kenyan Café we chose to focus on four sectors:

  • agriculture
  • ICT
  • education
  • media and health.

Over the course of the day our conversation allowed us to create a database of:

  • data collectors and the type of data they collect (i.e. stories, opinions, policies and research)
  • who uses the data and for what purpose
  • identify if the data becomes knowledge that influences the government’s approach to enhancing IG from the perspective of immigrants and diaspora
  • particular sectors where Kenya attracts skilled migrants from across the globe.

One of the key topics and questions that emerged was: while migrants have contributed to the infrastructural development of the country, it is unclear how much of the growth could be deemed as inclusive?

Image of people having a group discussionThe café was an opportunity to start a dialogue among all the project partners and ask – what constitutes data and knowledge and how is it represented in policy. All within the context of IG. The MIAG network has also given us the chance to explore what migration and IG mean in the context of the other project countries, and to begin to extract lessons learned and best practices others have adopted.

Evidence Cafés were an excellent tool in helping us to develop a deeper understanding of how migration and IG intersected in Kenya and across the network. We very quickly saw value in using these cafés in other areas of our research and adopted them in a study on youth employment and migration in Kenya, for example. The cafes generated innovation and helped reduce the monotony of research procedures, creating a value chain between data, knowledge and policy. As a result of being exposed the practice of Evidence Cafés through the MIAG network we intended to apply them to many other areas of our work.